The once vaunted Japanese print barons humbled whilst SmartNews soars to $2bn

Happy New Year 2022!

Figures released last month showed that print media circulation in Japan declined 5.5% in 2021 to just over 30 million.

In 2001 print media’s circulation exceeded 47 million daily copies. 

The circulation decline has accelerated since 2017, dropping more than a million copies annually. Heaviest hit casualties were morning and evening papers, especially regionals. Many have shut up shop.

The large Japanese media groups like Nikkei, Yomiuri, Asahi and Sankei were slow to adopt digital; those lacking strong content saw readers flock to new comers.

(An aside, the art of the Japanese salaryman carefully folding his broadsheet on the morning train so as not to disturb others is truly a spectacle. One day will be just an adage.)

Yahoo, which remains a very popular site in Japan, attracted many readers to its news portal. Google, Livedoor and Excite quickly followed.

Specialist news aggregator SmartNews was launched in 2012 and initially struggled to find investment capital in Japan. It then looked overseas for support where it found appeal in Silicon Valley. Its App, which currently ranks above Quora in the App Store has over 50million downloads worldwide.

Smartnews App

Although SmartNews is a Japanese run business it made a decision early on to go global.

That decision appears to be bearing fruit. What other Japanese media has a strong international presence? Nikkei, perhaps but mainly due to its acquisition of the FT.

Late last year Smartnews received another funding injection valuing it at over $2billion.

Smartnews claims its readers are ‘sticky’ spending on average 4 hours per month on the site versus say 1.5 hours for the BBC app. It’s hard to find recent data on MAUs, but in 2019 SmartNews claimed these were close to 20million.